Origin and appearance
The botanical name of the hawthorn (Crataegus) derives from the Greek word “krataigos” and means “strong” or “solid”. It refers to the tough, very hard wood of the various species. In Europe and Asia there are about 90 different hawthorns, in North America even up to 1000. However, the deciduous shrubs belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae) are a difficult case for botanists because many species cannot be clearly distinguished from each other.
There are two species native to the United States: the single-winged hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and the double-winged hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata). Of the latter, the red-flowered variety ‘Paul’s Scarlet’, the redthorn, is particularly popular as a small-crowned garden and street tree. The habitat of the two game-types are sunny forest-edges, hedges or curtsey on moderately dry until fresh, predominantly loamy until clayey grounds. The single-winged hawthorn prefers calcareous soils, while the two-winged hawthorn has a higher acid tolerance. It is also more common at higher altitudes, and the single person prefers to grow in the plain. In the garden hawthorns show a high adaptability. They grow on almost any type of soil and are surprisingly resistant to heat and drought. If possible, choose a sunny location – in semi-shade the flower base is often poor.
In addition to the native species and their garden forms, about five other species and hybrids are common as garden plants in Central Europe. They all form medium-sized shrubs, five to seven metres tall, or trees with broad, round, often sweeping crowns and dense, sparse branches. The grey-green to reddish-brown branches are more or less spined. The least carries the Rotdorn, most and longest the North American cock-spur-weißdorn (Crataegus crus-galli). The leaves are narrow-ovate to elongated oval or slightly to strongly lobed. Some species show a bright yellow to crimson autumn colouring. The mostly white to pale pink flowers form on the perennial wood. They open in May and June in great abundance and are found in most species in flat panicles. The small red drupes are edible, but taste a bit dull. They can be made into compote or wild fruit jam. The orange-red, large fruits of the apple thorn (Crataegus x lavallei ‘Carrierei’), a hybrid already created in France around 1870, have the highest ornamental value. They are often only thrown off in the winter months.
The hawthorn is not only a wild fruit, but also an important medicinal plant. Its ingredients have a vasodilatory effect, which is why hawthorn preparations are often prescribed in naturopathy for the treatment of heart failure. There is hardly a more valuable tree for the native animal world: the nectar-rich flowers are often visited by bees and other insects. The dense, thorny crown offers a safe breeding place for many bird species, the fruits are an important winter food. the rare red-backed shrike likes to use the long thorns of the hawthorn to spear captured insects and small vertebrates.
The tree-like growing hawthorns – especially the redthorn and the applethorn – are popular solitary trees for house gardens and public green areas. A very popular combination, which is often seen in old farm gardens, is redthorn and golden rain, as both shrubs bloom at the same time. Thanks to their deep roots, which are only slightly branched on the surface, hawthorns can be very well planted with shrubs and smaller shrubs. The native game species are important shrubs for bird protection hedges and are not only a must for near-natural gardens. They are well suited for free-growing hedges and other woodland plants in the wild. They can also be used as cut hedges – with their long thorns they reliably keep foreign cats out of your garden. Last but not least, all types of hawthorn are well suited for cultivation as bonsai because of their picturesque, gnarled growth and the picturesquely furrowed bark in old age.
An occasional thinning cut is possible, but not absolutely necessary. The trees do not age and become more beautiful from year to year even without pruning. The robust woody plants can withstand strong rejuvenation cuts without any problems if required.
The wild species of hawthorn can be reproduced by sowing, but only the single hawthorn germinates quickly and reliably. The seeds of the other species sometimes only rise after three years. Hybrids and varieties are usually propagated by oculation on single hawthorn seedlings. Other finishing methods such as copulation in late winter are also possible. The propagation of the pinewood is worth a try in the case of red arbor and apple arbor, but in most cases it produces very poor growth results.
Diseases and pests
The most common fungal diseases are rust and leaf spot diseases. Powdery mildew can also occur occasionally. Unfortunately, the various species are also susceptible to fire blight, a notifiable bacterial infection. Infected plants can be recognized by their dead and black-brown discolored shoot tips, which appear to have been burned. Infested plants should be removed and burned immediately. Pests such as gall mites, leaf suckers, aphids and web moths do not damage the plants in a life-threatening way.
In an interview with our store editor Dieke van Dieken, plant doctor René Wadas reveals his tips against aphids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera and Editing: Fabian Primsch